Before Jason Collins became the NBA's first openly gay jock, he played with the Atlanta Hawks, lived in the gayborhood and longed to be one of the gays enjoying their gayness in Piedmont Park.
Collins dished on being closeted as a Hawk, Georgia's gay marriage ban and life after coming out in an interview with Creative Loafing. Collins is in Atlanta on Thursday to take part in CNN Dialogues: Athletes & Social Responsibility.
How living in gay Atlanta helped him come out:
In your article, you discuss how the 2011 NBA lockout was a catalyst for later coming out. You played for the Atlanta Hawks during that time. What role did Atlanta play in that process?
I lived Downtown one year and Midtown for two years. Midtown has a very cool LGBT environment. I was living in one of those apartment buildings and would always look out the window and think, “It sure looks like fun down there!” [laughs] I used to go running through Piedmont Park a lot. On the way back to where I lived, I'd go past restaurants and see LGBT people enjoying things like Sunday brunch. Seeing positive examples of people living their lives. It did help knowing that life might eventually be my life.
On bigots in Atlanta:
Atlanta is a city with a vibrant LGBT community. But Georgia still has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in place. Did you keep tabs on LGBT rights while you lived here? If so, how did you feel about it?
I was more than aware. I had a “Welcome to the South” moment. I was on the ninth green at the Chastain Park golf course in Buckhead and a Caucasian young man said the “n-word” to me. Not only was I aware of LGBT issues, but also racial [discrimination]. We've advanced a long way in this country from when my grandmother grew up in upstate Louisiana under Jim Crow laws. We still have a lot of work to do as far as overcoming racial issues. They're now going on in other parts of the country. It's going on in Missouri right now. That's part of the reason why I talk about being black and gay. There are constant reminders [of both] with regards to the equality in this country.
On coming out:
Sixteen months ago, you became the first openly gay male athlete in the four major American professional sports. What has the overall reaction, good or bad, been since Sports Illustrated published the article?
The biggest takeaway was the amount of support in society for gay athletes. The reaction I got when I signed with the [Brooklyn] Nets — from my teammates, coaches, ownerships, fans, and the NBA community — was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. It shows you that, when it comes to athletics, that it isn't really about your religion, your race, your sexual orientation; it's about being able to compete and help your team win ball games. It's all about performance.
Collins played for the Hawks for portions of three seasons from 2009 to 2012, leaving as a free agent after the 2012 season. A year later, he became the first openly gay male athlete in U.S. professional sports. When he did, the Hawks cheered on their former center.